So let’s say that a couple of cops (on duty) happen to be walking down a neighborhood street. They pass by a house with a large window that gives the whole street a clear view of the living room. One of the cops glances in the window and sees a man beating a woman with a metal baseball bat; the woman is clearly unable to defend herself. If the man doesn’t stop or someone doesn’t intervene, the woman will almost certainly die. In this situation, would the cops be allowed to enter the house and take whatever actions necessary to stop the man?
Yes. Brigham City v. Stuart (2006) made it clear that officers presented with ongoing or imminent harm to another are allowed to enter a home and intervene as long as they do so reasonably. Officers who witness violence, no matter how small (in this case, a drunk teen punching another once), can reasonably assume more violence is taking place elsewhere inside and enter, especially if they announce their presence loudly.
Here’s where the fun begins. If the gentleman in your example is arrested once officers enter, the officers are only allowed to search the immediate area without a warrant (Chimel v. California ). Searches incident to arrest are a necessary exception to the 4th amendment to prevent a suspect from grabbing a weapon, destroying any evidence at the last second, etc. Earlier cases sculpted out searches of the person as kosher; this case clears the area immediately within reach of the suspect upon arrest but *not* the rest of his home (they overturned Chimel’s conviction). Later cases extend this “reach” to the passenger compartment of your car, for example.
Despite this limitation, officers can still use plain “sense” evidence obtained while they were lawfully intruding in your example home to either effect additional charges or to get a search warrant. Just because they can’t search other rooms doesn’t mean they have to ignore the pile of cash, guns, and drugs in the hallway. They just can’t rummage unless there’s a risk of the suspect grabbing it while getting cuffed.
A pile of guns is not clear evidence of a crime. They can be 100% legal and frequently are.
I’m not sure I’d agree that witnessing some violence means that there’s probably more going on elsewhere, but other than that if the cops see serious violence happening they should obviously be permitted to stop it.
What if it’s not a cop, but just a citizen? Are they still allowed to enter in order to stop the violence?
The Fourth Amendment and all cases related to it are about government intrusion, so for the most part citizen action is a completely separate field of law. What keeps a private citizen (not acting under the direction of the police or the like) from barging in any time and grabbing evidence are laws about trespass, breaking and entering, theft, etc. State law, not the Constitution, defines what the exceptions to those are.
It’s about sending a message…
Wait — if the trail had gone cold, how did the police have probable cause to believe there was evidence in the suspect’s house? They didn’t know which house to barge into. It doesn’t even sound like reasonable suspicion to me.
Is the prosecution suggesting “the police had a hunch it was this house” is enough in a “someone might destroy evidence” emergency?
Well, if the suspect and his (presumably stolen) money are in the house, then they’re the evidence in the house! But unless there’s other evidence that Ms. Pi is about to bring up, yeah, this doesn’t seem like a winning argument to me.
Remember: the officer saw that the front door had been kicked in on the house that the suspect was found inside. (why he had to kick in his own front door, I suspect will be answered shortly)
Whoa, I thought middle officer there was holding a pretty crazy pistol! Turns out it was his boot. I need to clean my glasses.
Can I suggest a topic of what civilians are permitted to do when confronted with crime? Citizen’s arrest, etc. Could also discuss what you SHOULD do. And Good Samaritan laws.
I, also, would like to see this subject explored on these pages – so clear and engaging!
I suspect, though, that the laws are so state-specific that a general treatment would require an asterisk in every panel.